Some partnerships are ubiquitous; Steve Jobs and Apple, Gates and Microsoft but one of the most impactful and storied collaborations has been Jordan and Nike. Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort, Air, starring Matt Damon tells the story of how a struggling athletic apparel company managed to land a generational talent and changed the world.
Air probably has the perceived expectation of being a sports film and while it does fit into that category, it is more of a sports adjacent film in that lives in the business world and while basketball does feature prominently during the story, the film would still flow without the inclusion of any highlights from Sam Bowie, Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing. Even casual fans of basketball know what Jordan did during the 80’s so showing highlights would be redundant but what is present is numerous items and images representing the decade; Ronald Reagan, Rubix Cubes, handheld video games, Trivial Pursuit and car phones to cement the film in one of the coolest and most interesting decades in history. Air is definitely part of what I call “The Stranger Things Effect” or the use of the 1980’s as a setting and playing up on the technology and popular culture to influence the story.
Even the soundtrack is gloriously 80’s with the inclusion of Cydni Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, ZZ Top, Dire Straits, Run-DMC, The Clash and because it is a movie featuring Michael Jordan, “Sirius” by The Alan Parsons Project, the iconic introduction song used by the Chicago Bulls, does make an appearance. It is a tip of the cap to Bulls fans who will surely flock to see the film.
Air also has the benefit of including an all-star cast of Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis, Chris Tucker and Chris Messina all playing larger than life, legendary people but strips them down to their basic but relatable desires; Damon’s Sonny Vaccaro sees Jordan’s prowess and abilities as a gift that should be shared with the world, Affleck’s version of Phil Knight is the Zen CEO who wants his company to succeed in spite of the odds, Bateman is the anxious executive who has become afraid to take chances, Tucker is the realist but still perseveres to land Jordan, Davis’ version of Deloris Jordan is every mother who wants to nurture and celebrate her precious child and Messina’s David Falk is the archetype for super-agent Ari Gold from Entourage but at the end of it all, he is just doing what is best for his client. These characters are seamlessly woven into the narrative so that even if Affleck is not onscreen for a bit, Damon is having an amusing yet needling phone call with Messina or a strategy session with Bateman or Tucker to remind us that this monumental meeting isn’t just one person’s achievement. The character most noticeably absent is that of Jordan himself who only appears via archival footage. This lack of Jordon is not exactly a hinderance but rather gives His Airness a more ethereal presence and more to the point, Air is not explicitly about Jordan but is Jordan adjacent and in service to the larger narrative of Nike’s struggles in the 1980’s.
Jordan is not the only one treated with reverence as the Air Jordan One, arguably the most iconic and desirable shoe ever created, is not fully revealed until the big meeting with the Jordan family. While most people seeing Air will likely be familiar with the design of the first Air Jordan, those unfamiliar with it need to at least understand the elegance and importance of the footwear and the careful attention from designer Peter Moore (who passed away before production began on the film and is touchingly remembered in the film’s epilogue) and buy in from Damon and Bateman all lead to the awe-inspiring reveal during the pitch meeting.
Air is a film filled to the brim with quippy, humorous dialogue performed by some of the best actors working today. Affleck takes lessons learned from his past films like The Town and Argo to craft what is probably his best film. This is more than an excuse to make another film with his best friend but an exploration of business executives surrounded by a changing world that was pioneered by one man and how their partnership has reshaped the world and what it means to be a top tier athlete. Viola Davis turns in a subdued but Oscar worthy performance as a loving mother who is able to stand toe-to-toe with high-powered Nike executive to ensure her son’s future. Air is an absolute slam dunk (pun fully intended) of a film and one that is worthy of ones time.
Note: You can stream Air free with an Amazon Prime Video membership.
VERDICT: 5 Air Ones out of 5
Featured Image Credit: Air courtesy of Amazon Prime Video